Last week, Saturday Night Live announced the addition of three new cast members to its roster: Shane Gillis, a stand-up comedian; Bowen Yang, an SNL writer who’s now the show’s first-ever Asian American cast member; and Chloe Fineman, a celebrity impressionist extraordinaire. Yang and Fineman both already have cult followings online, but Gillis remained something of a mystery—that is, until a 2018 video of him using racial slurs and essentially exposing himself as a bigot surfaced just hours after SNL‘s announcement. The outcry was instant—and yet it took SNL a full week to announce that actually, it wouldn’t be hiring Gillis after all.
Sadly, it’s not Gillis’s racism, homophobia, and misogyny that’s so surprising, but the fact that SNL actually hired him in the first place. After all, it only took a quick Google search to discover that for Gillis, those types of “jokes” were pretty much the norm. But according to sources that spoke with Variety, it’s all actually quite simple—especially if you’re familiar with 30 Rock—because the back story appears to be ripped straight from a 2009 episode of the beloved NBC series.
For those who don’t recall, season 3, episode 4 of the show finds Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) on the hunt for an actor to join the cast of TGS with Tracy Jordan, a sketch comedy. While Liz initially searches in coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, Jack insists they find someone who’ll appeal to viewers in middle America, leading them to pay a visit to Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer)’s small hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Jack soon settles on a local ventriloquist named Rick Wayne (Jeff Dunham), plus his dummy Pumpkin (Bubba J). The latter repeatedly insults Liz in misogynistic terms, which eventually leads to his demise.
From the look of it, that’s also essentially what went down in real life. Apparently, series creator Lorne Michaels was also actively looking for a cast member who’d appeal to conservative viewers, in part to offset the show’s perceived liberal leanings. In that sense, Gillis seems like a perfect fit—and, in their haste to follow Michaels’s orders, producers reportedly breezed through the usual vetting proces. Michaels, it seems, still hadn’t brushed up on Gillis by the end of last week; he reportedly took the weekend to study up on the stand-up, which is why he took until Monday to fire him.
30 Rock solved its casting problem by hiring a man who played a robot in Times Square instead, but there’s no indication yet that SNL will replace Gillis before the season starts.
Photos: Live from New York
Bumper photo of Steve Martin by Edie Baskin, 1976. © Edie Baskin
Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley’s iconic 1990 Chippendales sketch. © Edie Baskin
Jan Hooks as Nancy Reagan backstage, late 1980s. © Suzy M. Drasnin
The storage room in the makeup lab, 2009. © Mary Ellen Matthews
Edie Baskin’s hand-tinted portrait of Gilda Radner as Baba Wawa, 1977. © Edie Baskin
A personal note from John Belushi to Lorne Michaels. © Courtesy of the Belushi Family
Gilda Radner’s Roseannadanna with Jane Curtin, 1979. © Edie Baskin
Steven Spielberg, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg shooting “Laser Cats 7” in Lorne Michael’s office, 2012. © Dana Edelson
Bill Hader as Stefon with Seth Meyers during Hader’s farewell show, 2013. © Dana Edelson
Saturday Night Live. the Book. by Alison Castle, $50, taschen.com.